Importance of Cultural Diversity: Cultural Bias in the Work Force
Hypothetical Case of Maria
Maria is a Latino woman who works in a department with all men and no other ethnic groups. There was an opportunity for a promotion and her and a white male both applied for the position. Her manager said she wouldn't be right for the job due to her accent, her poor attendance and her aggressive behavior towards co-workers. He noted that her accent would make it difficult for customers to understand her clearly. So her manager piked the white male with less experience over a Latino woman with more experience. Do you believe she has a strong case for discrimination?
Cultural diversity can cause several problems in the work place and it's important to take this into consideration when looking into a company's promotion policy. When looking into a case where a Latino woman is being passed over for a promotion based on factors such as her accent, the company may have just crossed a line that they may not be able to come back from. Women in the business world see cases of discrimination more often than men and a woman of a different ethnic background is subjected to this even more. If a company doesn't follow the ethical procedures when promoting its' employees then they could end up with a whole world of problems that could end up costing them millions, as well as their reputation. In a hypothetical case of a Latino woman, Maria, she is arguing that she is being discriminated against not only for her ethnicity, but for her gender and cultural background as well.
Maria strongly feels that she is being discriminated against and has just cause to do so; she is not only the only Latino and person of color, but the only woman in her department and feels that she is being passed over for a promotion because of her gender, ethnicity, and cultural background. Another strong case of discrimination is that she says her manager told her that her accent would make it difficult for customers to understand; and while speaking clearly to a customer is an important part of her duties, it is ethically wrong to not promote her based on that alone. Studies show that, "race indirectly affects promotion decisions through job relevant variables such as hiring and years of experience" (Muniz 99). Foley & Kidder, the ones who organized the study. suggest "that when women and members of ethnic minority groups perceive discrimination, they will be less likely to perceive fairness in promotion process and outcomes" (Muniz 99). This could be the case with Maria because the man running against her for the promotion was a white male who had less experience than her and he ended up receiving the position. The study also noted on how women are more likely to perceive discrimination based on their gender, "according to Foley & Kidder women will be more likely than men to perceive that their gender affects their chances for advancement in organizations. In fact, research shows that in professional service organizations promotion procedures are subjective and affected by biases, politics, and power relations" (Muniz 99). It is possible that due to the lack of other ethnic groups or women in her department, she was more sensitive to perceiving discrimination.
Maria's supervisor had shed light on other factors excluding her from gaining the promotion; such as, loud and aggressive behavior towards co-workers and attendance issues. Maria explained that her attendance issues were all family related and within the Hispanic culture there are strong ties to family and in some cases one is expected to take care of their extended family and this may require missing work. The Hispanic culture is a collective culture as opposed to the individualistic culture in the U.S. and this can make things difficult for Hispanics trying to adapt to western culture. "Collective cultures view their accomplishments as being dependent on the outcome of others," this can makes things difficult for someone to try to integrate in a westernized culture where the focus is put on competition and personal gain (Ruiz 37). Maria has a duty not only to her nuclear family, but to her extended family as well. Hispanics put more value into family and in some instances are expected to support and help their family in a time of need, regardless if they have other pressing commitments, such as a job or an appointment. Family always takes precedence over everything and that is something the Western culture fails to notice, and it is possible that Maria's supervisor doesn't understand her value of family because their cultures are completely different. The case study mentioned earlier describes how this can be avoided in the workplace and suggests that companies introduce a "pro-diversity climate" (Muniz 101). Maria's supervisor should allow more opportunity to understand other cultures by hiring people from different cultural backgrounds. Not only will that reduce the perception of discrimination it will also help co-workers be more understanding of other cultures.
The other factor denying Maria a promotion was her accent. The supervisor did admit to making a comment about her language skills, but stated that Maria often spoke rapidly and that combined with her accent made it difficult to understand her. He also stated that the position requires one to be able to communicate clearly in English as they will be dealing with customers. Though his reasons appear to be valid, his case isn't strong because Maria is the only female of color in the department and her manager knew of her accent prior to the promotion and should of given her a chance especially since she has the experience. Maria's accent may be an issue, but it is something that she really can't control, it is a part of her ethnicity and her supervisor shouldn't judge her based on that.
Diversity in a Company (AT&T)
"The passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial discrimination in employment, making it illegal for employers to hire, fire, compensate, classify, or deprive workers of opportunities based on their race, color, or national origin" (Hirsh 271). The problem with this law is that the employees are the ones who must enforce it and sometimes there are cases where there is a clear perception of discrimination; whereas, others aren't so cut and dry. Race discrimination involves an employee being treated unfairly or differently based on their race. "However, when confronted with allegations of disparate treatment, employers can cite any number of reasons - such as performance, effort, or experience - for treating workers differently, each of which may have nothing to do with race" (Hirsh 272). This relates to Maria's case because after her supervisor was asked about his comments denying her the promotion because of her accent, he also noted that his decision was based on her attendance and behavior towards other co-workers. This is how discrimination laws can help and hurt employees. Maria claims discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, and culture, yet her manager claims there were other factors that disqualified her from obtaining the promotion. In the article, Perceiving Discrimination on the Job, it discusses how situations such as these aren't always easy cases of discrimination, and employers will "refute workers' interpretations of race discrimination, workers' attributions of personal discrimination are 'uncertain, subjective, susceptible to human error, and prone to dispute" (Hirsh 272). This can ultimately cause problems for employees trying to file discrimination claims against their employer, but also protects the employer from cases where discrimination wasn't an issue. In the case of Maria we have a justified case for discrimination because her manager clearly states that one reasoning for her not getting the promotion is because of her language skill and her accent.
Some research points out that women, especially women of color, perceive discrimination more than others because throughout history women have lagged behind men in terms of "pay, workplace authority, and occupational states" (Hirsh 274). This can lead to women having different perceptions of their company's promotion policies as well, "Foley and Kidder proposed a theoretical model that describes factors that influence perception of promotion fairness. They suggested that when women and members of ethnic minority groups perceive discrimination, they will be less likely to perceive fairness in promotion processes and outcomes" (Muniz 99). In some instances women are being put on mentor programs to help them with being promoted, but studies have shown that this only hinders women from being promoted. A survey done in 2008 showed that even though more women had mentors than men, their mentors had less organizational clout. Since Maria is the only woman of color in her department she perceives her denied promotion as discrimination, if her supervisor had a better integrated set of employees from different backgrounds then maybe her perceptions would change.
A discrimination lawsuit or accusation could have different outcomes or a company's reputation and if a discrimination lawsuit becomes public knowledge then the company's future also hangs in the balance. If Maria was to win this claim and it became public knowledge that her supervisor denied her a promotion based on her gender, ethnicity, cultural background, and accent, the public would ignore the fact that her behavior and attendance were contributing factors. Customers may be less likely to use the company and this could result in loss of money and potentially causing the company to fold. An article from 2011 in the New York Times illustrates the current issue that some companies are having with laying people off. It shows that with the struggling economy more and more employers have to be extra careful about how they "structure layoffs when they reduce their work forces"; however, "workers themselves argue that a poor job market has brought out the hidden prejudicial side of employers who can afford to be especially picky in selecting employees" (Rampell). Employers must always be aware of how they appear to the public and to their employees, for fear of a wrongful or justified discrimination suit. The reputation of an honorable company can easily be tainted if the employer isn't being very careful of how he proceeds with hiring, firing and promoting his or her employees. The situation concerning Maria could have easily been prevented if the supervisor had more women and a more diverse group of employees. A supervisor can achieve this by simply "reviewing policies and practices that may serve as obstacles to diversity and introducing diversity education" (Muniz 101). The supervisor should also encourage his or her employees to go explore different cultures to get a better understanding of other people.
One study suggests that a supervisor add "affirmative action programs in personnel decisions" to illustrate "fair employment practices" (Hirsh 276). Thee study also suggests that: "Affirmative action policies also hold managers and supervisors accountable to diversity goals when making hiring and promotion decisions. Such commitment and accountability on the part of employers should communicate to workers that, to the extent that race affects employment decisions, it does so in positive ways" (Hirsh 276-277). The affirmative action policy allows for a safe and positive way to promote and hire employees and is a practice that supervisors should consider using when faced with a problem where they have a well qualified Hispanic and a fairly new Caucasian up for promotion; however, a supervisor must also remember that is they practice a pro-diversity climate in the workplace then that will limit the number of discrimination claims and promote a positive work environment.
Diversity in the Workplace
The mos important element of a workplace is diversity, without it employers will run into many unethical issues such as discrimination and racism. In today's society women are still perceived as being less than men. They continue to get passed over for promotions and jobs at big corporations because their male supervisors feel they are too sensitive to handle the fast paced business world. Whether they are enrolled in a mentoring program or allowed to attempt success on their own, "women are still perceived as 'risky' appointments for such roles by often male-dominated committees" (Ibarra, 2010). Male supervisors need to adapt better policies if they hire female employees, not to say that women should be held to a different standard, but they should be allowed the same opportunities as men without being judged on gender. Maria not only stood out because of her gender, but her race and cultural background as well. Because her supervisor had a Caucasian male-dominated work group it possibly made Maria feel inadequate and singled out. If he had promoted diversity in the workplace then maybe she wouldn't have seen her denied promotion as discrimination. Supervisors have a difficult job or selecting employees for jobs, firing employees and promoting employees, and they should always proceed with caution when explaining why an employee wasn't hired or promoted. If they give any indication that an employee's gender, ethnicity, or cultural background had a part in their decision then the reputation of that employer can start to crumble. But by promoting safe and positive diversity and employer can end up with a satisfied work group and employees who are better educated on the different cultures that make up an organization.
Hirsh, E. & Lyons, C.J. (2010). Perceiving Discrimination on the Job: Legal Consciousness, Workplace Context, and the Construction of Race Discrimination. Law & Society Review, 44(2), 269-298.
Ibarra, H., Carter, N.M., & Silva, C. (2010). Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Woman. Harvard Business Review, 88(9), 80-126.
Muniz, E.J. (2009). Hispanic Law Students' Perceptions of Discrimination, Justice, and Career Prospects. Business Journal of Hispanic Research, 3(1), 98-103.
Rampell, C. (2011). More Workers Complain of Bias on the Job a Trend Linked to Widespread Layoffs. The New York Times.
Ruiz, E. (2005). Hispanic Culture and Relational Cultural Theory. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 1(1), 35-55.